FEDERAL lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday engaged in a free-for-all over the sharing of principal offices by the majority All Progressives Congress.
Reacting to the development, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party slammed President Muhammadu Buhari, saying “the disgraceful act” in the House was a direct consequence of President Buhari’s lack of democratic credentials and lack of respect for the independence and sanctity of the legislative arm of government.
But the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, insisted on Thursday that Buhari would not intervene in the leadership crisis currently rocking the National Assembly until the APC state governors asked him to do so.
Shehu said this while featuring on Sunrise, a programme on a Lagos-based private television station, Channels TV.
He said, “When the governors met with the President, they told him that ‘we are the leaders in our states and we have influence over all of these senators. They come from our places and from us and we can handle it.’
“The President will step into the crisis at the point when the governors say they can no longer fix it.”
Angry APC members on the floor of the House tore each other’s clothes, threw punches, upturned tables, threw bound copies of law books, kicked chairs and shouted on top of their voices for about 105 minutes the rowdy session lasted.
Some daring members, led by a lawmaker from Sokoto State, Mr. Balarabe Salame, actually made to snatch the mace, but the Sergeant-at-Arms and other lawmakers quickly rescued the authority symbol of the legislative House and deposited same in the Speaker’s office.
Directly behind Saleme was a member from Kano State, Mr. Ali Madaki.
Salame also made to attack the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, but he retreated as Dogara loyalists rushed at him and threatened to throw him out of the chamber.
Amid the shoving and punching, shouts of “Dogara”, “Dogara”, “Give us our leaders”, “Party is supreme’’, “PDP, power”, “APC, change” and “APC, shame”, were heard in a discordant manner.
The bone of contention, The PUNCH learnt, was the non-announcement of the names of principal officers of the House as directed by the leadership of the APC.
The party, had in a letter dated June 23, asked the Speaker to announce Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos State) as the Majority Leader; Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa (Kano State) as his deputy; Mr. Mohammed Monguno (Borno State) as the Chief Whip; and Mr. Pally Iriase (Edo State) as his deputy.
The party had explained that it took the decision following “consultations” with the various caucuses.
There had been tension in the House over the matter even before the Thursday’s sitting.
For example, the North-Central and South-East caucuses had protested their exclusion from the sharing of the positions.
They had protested against giving the South-West and the North-East additional positions, having produced the deputy speaker and speaker respectively already.
Thursday’s fracas was fallout of the lingering dispute in the APC following the emergence of Senator Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate and Dogara as the Speaker on June 9.
How Speaker ignited ‘riot’
Trouble started on Thursday when contrary to the expectations of many APC lawmakers, Dogara did not announce the names of the principal officers. Rather, he opted to call for an executive session soon after his procession entered the chambers.
The Speaker had beckoned to a member from Benue State, Mr. Orker Jev, to move a motion for the executive session.
But several hands promptly went up, with members shouting, “point of order, “point of order”, but Dogara ignored them and directed Jev to continue.
The Speaker’s action apparently infuriated some members hence the pandemonium that followed.
Ado-Doguwa climbed onto a desk right in front of Dogara and attempted to incite members, but he was chased down by those backing Dogara. The Speaker’s backers threw hard copies of law books they picked from the desk at Ado-Doguwa.
Also, some members suddenly produced and carried placards with an inscription, “Nigerians voted party; party is supreme.”
Some members of the APC, who were not favourably disposed to the decision of the party, as well as the Peoples Democratic Party members in the House, were also seen forming a protective human shield around Dogara.
The PDP members claimed that they were out to protect the House as an institution, not that they were part of the crisis in the APC. They were led by a member from Delta State, Mr. Leo Ogor.
All the while, Gbajabiamila sat quietly at a corner, watching the unfolding drama.
But, after sensing that the matter was getting out of hands, he rose to meet and discuss with Dogara briefly at the Chair. At 12pm, he tried to address the rowdy members but his efforts failed.
It was not until 12.31pm that calm began to return gradually as Gbajabiamila and Ogor appealed to the warring members to return to their seats.
We’ll resolve our conflict, Dogara says
Dogara thereafter addressed the House, expressing disappointment over the conduct of the members.
He said the 360 members should consider themselves “fortunate” to be elected as representatives out of 170 million Nigerians.
Dogara noted that the members were sent to Abuja to promote national interest and not personal or sectional interests.
He said, “To be candid, we have promised so much in the course of our electioneering and even the very party I belong to, the APC, we have promised change and Nigerians expect us to really talk about those matters, those issues that bother them most.
“They want to hear us talk about unemployment, poverty; in my region, they want us to address insecurity and as long as this House is divided and not united, we cannot achieve that.”
On the issue that led to the fracas, Dogara said all available channels would be explored to resolve it.
“As to the issues that led to the fracas today, we will sit down as leaders and resolve whatever caused the fight. We have to ensure that this matter, as quickly as possible, is resolved and that is what we will do by the grace of God,” he stated.
The Speaker quickly adjourned the House till July 21, apparently to douse tension.
‘Action breached legislative proceedings’
In its official position, the House expressed regrets over the conduct of the members, accusing them of breaching legislative proceedings.
The Chairman, House Ad Hoc Committee on Media, Mr. Sani Zoro, said, “It was obvious from the action of these members that they were acting on a premeditated script, as some of them even carried placards with inscriptions on them.
“These members attempted to seize the mace, which is the symbol of authority of the House, and other sundry acts of fighting, fracas, misconduct, disruption and committed unparliamentarily actions unbecoming of the status of honourable members.
“The conduct of these members amounts to contempt of the House and is in clear violation of the Standing Orders of the House and Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act and the customs and traditions of Parliament.”
But, the majority of the APC members, who took sides with the party, described as “illegal” the refusal of Dogara to announce the names of the principal officers as directed by the party.
Mr. Nasir Zango-Daura, who spoke for the APC Caucus, argued that the positions in question were party positions and not House positions, hence Dogara could not dictate who occupied them.
“That is the responsibility that lies with the party and its caucuses. If I may ask, can he appoint principal officers for the PDP? His action will truncate our democracy”, Zango-Daura said.
He vowed that the members would continue to fight, “come rain, come shine”, until the matter was resolved in their favour.
On its part, the PDP caucus took the same position as the official position of the House.
Its leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, told a news conference that the APC members disrupted the House proceedings because of an issue that was “purely the internal affair of the APC.”
He added, “We ruled this country for 16 years, but now we are starting on a very bad note.
“We apologise to Nigerians for the conduct of the APC members and we appeal to the members that if they have a crisis in their party, they should resolve it within their party and not take the entire country hostage.”
Meanwhile, the APC caucus resolved at a late night meeting on Wednesday that Monguno should swap positions with Iraise.
Iriase is now to be the Chief Whip, while Monguno will be his deputy.
Iriase announced the switch at the same news conference where the APC members gave their reactions to the fracas.
It was a disgraceful act–PDP
The PDP condemned the fracas in the House, describing it as a show of shame and national embarrassment.
It said that the ugly development questioned Buhari and APC’s commitment to democracy, unity and the stability of the country.
The opposition party’s reaction was contained in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, in Abuja on Thursday.
“The barbaric attempt to physically assault a duly elected Speaker, seize the mace, the authority of the House, is a direct attack on the Nigerian parliament, which embodies the supremacy of the people and our freedom as a democratic nation,” it said.
The PDP said what Nigerians witnessed in the House on Thursday clearly underscored the fact that the APC had exhausted its excuses and had imported “its internal contradictions” into an independent arm of government as a way to further cover its lack of ideas for governance.
“We state unequivocally that the onus lies on President Buhari to ensure that all democratic institutions are harnessed for effectiveness, a responsibility he has apparently abdicated by allowing his personal interest to instigate division in the parliament, a tendency that poses great threat to the survival of our democracy and the stability of the nation,” the party added.